The principle of interchangeable parts

One of the most common complaints a coach hears at the younger ages is that he/she is playing players in too many positions. This complaint, of course, is only heard when a team is losing.

Fastpitch softball is a sport that requires specialization. Each position is played differently, has different decision trees, and largely requires different skills. Some great infielders never learn to judge a fly ball and are disasters in the outfield, despite being great athletes. Some excellent third basemen don’t have the range to play short. Some second basemen don’t have the reaction time to play third. It all varies.

That, to me, is one of the secrets to success in fastpitch softball — matching the player’s abilities to the position.

Now, at the younger ages, perhaps up to 11U, it’s a good thing to move players around more, at least early in the season. They are nowhere near fully formed yet, so how do you know that the kid you have in right field wouldn’t make a good first baseman with a little work and experience. You won’t until you try her there.

As players get older, though, this scenario becomes less attractive. Moving players around, unless you absolutely have to, can end up in disaster. This goes not only for the average ability players, but also for the studettes.

You see, there is a difference between great athletic ability and the ability to play a position. Trying to force a player into a position where she lacks the skills/knowledge/experience can wind up backfiring on you. I don’t know how others feel, but I’ll take a kid with less raw athletic ability but more knowledge and skill at a position than the reverse.

Now, I know college coaches often talk about taking athletes. Perhaps they have the luxury. Most of us don’t. Besides, their pool of athletes, especially at the upper level, are also pretty darned skilled. And they don’t just arbitrarily stick one of those athletes into a new position on game day and hope they can figure it out for themselves.

Softball players are not interchangeable parts that can be moved around willy-nilly. If you feel a position change is required, be sure to spend plenty of time with that player so she can learn the little stuff about that position. Otherwise, sure as you’re reading this, her lack of experience will come back to bite you at the worst possible moment.

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